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THE APPLICATION OF THE RAMSAR CONVENTION FOR PROTECTION OF WETLANDS IN INDIA – A BATTLE WELL FOUGHT?

INTRODUCTION

Wetlands are defined as land regions that are permanently or intermittently submerged in water.[1] It includes lagoons, ponds, rivers, marshes, mangroves, etc. Wetlands support and help to thrive large and diverse ecosystems comprising various birds, fishes, and mammals. Wetlands trap pollutants and heavy metals in soil. Though it occupies a very small land area on earth, it has 50% more capacity for trapping carbon than rainforest[2]. The water in the wetlands buries animal waste and other carbon matter, in this way it gets trapped. But global warming and climate change, it has posed a great threat to these wetlands[3]. An international agreement known as the Ramsar Convention was agreed upon at Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 and came into force in 1975, to preserve, safeguard, and promote the sustainable use of wetlands[4].

RAMSAR CONVENTION

The official name of the accord is the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, particularly as Waterfowl Habitat. The Ramsar Convention’s guiding principle is the wise use of wetlands, which involves sustainably using them.[5] It is the oldest and first inter-governmental conservation convention. This convention has various international partners for achieving its objectives. This is the only treaty that focuses on a certain type of biodiversity. Earlier, the primary focus was on waterbirds and later all other entities that exist within the biodiversity of wetlands were considered. There are more than 2,400 wetlands put under Wetlands of International Importance under this convention. In 1974, the Cobourg Peninsula in Australia was identified as the World’s First Ramsar site[6]. The convention has a six-year strategic plan. This convention has three pillars and they are as follows:

  1. Prudent use of wetlands.
  2. To put adequate wetlands under the Ramsar List, to conserve and protect them.
  3. To bring international cooperation for transboundary shared wetlands.[7]

The 4th Ramsar Conference Strategic Plan 2016-2024 was just agreed at COP12 of the conference.[8] It has four strategic objectives. Goal 1 is to address the factors that cause wetland loss and degradation. Goal 2 is to efficiently manage and conserve the network of Ramsar sites. Goal 3 calls for the smart use of all wetlands, while Goal 4 is focused on improving implementation. [9]

RAMSAR CONVENTION AND INDIA

India has a varied range of wetland ecosystems ranging from Himalayan wetlands to Ganga- Brahmaputra wetlands. It includes both man-made and natural wetlands[10]. When the treaty was created, India was a Contracting Party, and on February 1st, 1982, India signed it.  India now has 54 Ramsar sites, or wetlands of international significance, after the addition of five more.[11] The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) published the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, as per the guidelines of the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986. These laws strengthen the institutional system by utilizing State or UT Wetland Authorities, a National Wetland Committee, and the legislative framework for environmental issues. In India, there has been a decline in the wetlands, in the last three decades India has lost a whopping 30% of wetlands.[12] The degradation of the wetlands is happening due to encroachment, pollution, aquaculture, weed infestation, and siltation. On the other hand, there is an increase in human-made wetlands in the form of reservoirs, salt patches, etc. During the summer season, as the water recedes the wetlands are encroachment for agriculture. Hence it becomes essential for monitoring wetlands during the summer season for proper management.[13] Wetlands of International Importance is a chapter of the National Wetland Atlas report. According to the Ramsar Convention, the assessment found that government intervention is necessary to stop the wetlands from degrading further. Also, the report highlighted that it is the need of the hour to address the system of wetlands of every site to its local communities[14].

In the last four decades, as per the Wetlands International South Asia, it is estimated that India has lost nearly one-third of its natural wetlands on account of pollution. Chennai, Mumbai, and Delhi lost 90%,71%, and 38% respectively due to construction and unplanned urbanization.  Wetlands are disappearing three times greater more than forests. A study was done on the amounts and geographical distribution of trace elements in sediments of the Kottuli Wetland on India’s southwest coast.[15] According to the investigation’s findings, the mean concentration of every trace metal analyzed was higher than both the average value for Japanese river silt and the average concentration of shale globally. All of the sampling locations may eventually have a serious trace metal contamination problem, according to the IGEO index of geo-accumulation[16].

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2017 had replaced the 2010 version of the rules with Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017[17]. Accordingly, they started to establish ministers and other relevant officers and experts. It included the list of prohibited activities such as dumping solid waste, construction waste, demolition waste, and discharging untreated effluent[18]. The National Mission for Clean Ganga devised a toolkit management of wetlands in urban areas[19]. The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) also encouraged public participation in the development of the integrated network of Delhi’s “green and blue assets” as part of the Master Plan Delhi 2041[20].

Amrit Dharohar is a specific program for safeguarding crucial wetlands that support aquatic biodiversity, according to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman[21]. This scheme will support local communities’ distinctive conservation characteristics. This highlights the significance of local communities in maintaining the wetland ecology. Over the next three years, this strategy will be implemented to promote the best utilization of wetlands, boost biodiversity and carbon stock, expand tourist prospects, and bring in revenue for the neighboring people. The program strives to establish a sustainable ecology with the aid of neighborhood communities. It fits under “Green Growth,” one of the budget’s seven priorities.[22]

CONCLUSION

Giving wetlands international recognition does not help in protecting them from detrimental factors, more concrete efforts and planning are essential for helping these resources to thrive and grow. Many plant species are restricted to the special wetland environment. The loss of wetlands poses a threat to their survival. Municipalities would have to spend more money on water treatment if there were no wetlands; nearby populations would be subjected to large-scale catastrophic floods; hurricanes, as well as storms, might extend further inland; animals would be driven to an extent to migrate or go extinct; the food supply and livelihoods would be disrupted; etc. Hence, every person has a moral responsibility to preserve wetlands.

Author(s) Name: Adukathil Anuja Narayanan (Mumbai University)

Reference(s):

[1]‘What is a Wetland?’ (Agency of Natural Resources Department of Environmental Conservation) <https://dec.vermont.gov/watershed/wetlands/what >accessed 16 May 2023

[2] ‘Value of Wetlands’ ( Wetlands Initiative) < http://www.wetlands-initiative.org/what-is-a-wetland > accessed 16 May 2023

[3] ‘What is a Wetland? And 8 other facts’ (World Wildlife Fund) <https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/what-is-a-wetland-and-8-other-wetland-facts > accessed 16 May 2023

[4]‘The History on the Convention’ (Ramsar) <https://www.ramsar.org/about/the-convention-on-wetlands-and-its-mission >accessed 16 May 2023

[5] ‘The Convention on Wetlands and Its Mission’ (Ramsar) <https://www.ramsar.org/about/the-convention-on-wetlands-and-its-mission > accessed 16 May 2023

[6] Ibid

[7]Ibid

[8] ‘Ramsar strategic Plan 2014-2024’ (Ramsar) <https://www.ramsar.org/sites/default/files/ramsar_convention_strategic_plan_poster_english.pdf> accessed 18 May 2023

[9]Ibid

[10]Zubeda Habid, ‘India’s disappearing wetlands: will the new scheme announced in the budget help?’ (The Hindu, 16 February 2023) <https://www.thehindu.com/podcast/indias-disappearing-wetlands-will-the-new-scheme-announced-in-the-budget-help-in-focus-podcast/article66516521.ece> accessed 18 May 2023

[11] ‘India adds 11 more wetlands to Ramsar Lists’ (PIB,13 August 2022) <https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1851484 > accessed 12 May 2023

[12]Zubeda Habid (n10)

[13] ‘National Wetlands Atlas: Wetlands Of International Importance Under Ramsar Convention’ (2013) 1 (1) 242 <https://vedas.sac.gov.in/vedas/downloads/atlas/Wetlands/National%20Wetland%20Atlas_Ramsar%20sites%20of%20India.pdf > accessed 18 May 2023

[14]Ibid

[15] P.S. Harikumar  & T.S. Jisha, Distribution pattern of trace metal pollutants in the sediments of urban wetlands in the southwest coast of India (AGRIS, 2010) <https://agris.fao.org/agrissearch/search.do?recordID=AV2012047548> accessed 18 May 2023

[16] Ibid

[17] ‘Wetlands (Conservation and Management Rules) 2017’ (Indian Wetlands)  <https://indianwetlands.in/our-work/wetlands-conservation-and-management-rules-2017/> accessed 07 June 2023

[18]Ibid

[19] ‘Namami Gange: Massive Scientific and community based programs launched on World Wetland Day 2021’(PIB, 02 February 2021 ) <https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1694555> accessed 07 june 2023

[20] ‘Master Plan for Delhi-2041’ (RG Plan) 23 <https://rgplan.com/delhi/MPD_2041-e_Gazette_English.pdf> accessed 07 June 2023

[21]‘Amrit Darohar Scheme to Promote values of local communities in conserving wetlands’ (PIB, 01 February 2023) <https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1895291> accessed 18 May 2023

[22] ‘FM Announces Bharat Shared Repository on Inscriptions, Amrit Darohar Scheme for Wetlands’ (Economic Times, 01 February 2023) <https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/services/travel/fm-announces-bharat-shared-repository-of-inscriptions-amrit-dharohar-scheme-for-wetlands/articleshow/97521584.cms  > accessed 18 May 2023